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In the Danish Law of Jutland from 1241, the term is umbozman and means a royal civil servant in a hundred.From 1552, it is also used in the other Scandinavian languages such as the both Icelandic and Faroese umboðsmaður, the Norwegian ombudsmann/ombodsmann and the Swedish ombudsman.

If the ombudsman finds a complaint to be substantiated, the problem may get rectified, or an ombudsman report is published making recommendations for change.Another precursor to the ombudsman was the Turkish Diwan-al-Mazalim which appears to go back to the second caliph, Umar (634–644) and the concept of Qadi al-Qudat.An indigenous Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish term, ombudsman is etymologically rooted in the Old Norse word umboðsmaðr, essentially meaning "representative" (with the word umbud/ombud meaning proxy, attorney, that is someone who is authorized to act for someone else, a meaning it still has in the Scandinavian languages).The Swedish-speaking minority in Finland uses the Swedish terminology.Use of the term in modern times began in Sweden, with the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman instituted by the Instrument of Government of 1809, to safeguard the rights of citizens by establishing a supervisory agency independent of the executive branch.An ombudsman, ombuds, or public advocate is an official who is charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints of maladministration or a violation of rights.

The ombudsman is usually appointed by the government or by parliament, but with a significant degree of independence.

However, the ombudsman system relies heavily on the selection of an appropriate individual for the office, and on the cooperation of at least some effective official from within the apparatus of the state.

The institution has also been criticized: "Ombudsmen are relics of absolutism, designed to iron out the worst excesses of administrative arbitrariness while keeping the power structures intact." Many private companies, universities, non-profit organisations and government agencies also have an ombudsman (or an ombuds office) to serve internal employees, and managers and/or other constituencies.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman was established in 1809 by the Swedish Riksdag, as a parallel institution to the still-present Chancellor of Justice, reflecting the concept of separation of powers as developed by Montesquieu.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman is the institution that the Scandinavian countries subsequently developed into its contemporary form, and which subsequently has been adopted in many other parts of the world.

If they did not do so, the Supreme Ombudsman had the right to prosecute them for negligence.